It's the most wonderful time of the year! Okay, maybe second most wonderful. It's honey extraction time.
The honey extraction process is time consuming, but at the end of the day pretty straightforward and WELL worth the effort. Of course, it all starts with the bees. This year, we had 18 hives. After they recovered from winter and grew through the spring, we eventually add honey supers to the top of the hives. These boxes give the worker bees a place to store any honey they don't need in the brood boxes, and also give us an easy way to access for extraction. Right before extraction, we also placed a board between the supers and the rest of the hive that allows bees to go from the super to the hive, but not the other way around. You can see the plain brown supers below:
Timing is also very important: we want to wait to extract until we know we're going to get a good haul of honey, but not wait so long that the hives don't have time to build stores back up for winter. This year, we harvested the second weekend of August.
So, we go into the honey supers and check to see what the honey looks like! Ideally, you're looking for full frames of honey that have all been closed off, or capped, by the bees. Here's a honey frame that looks nice and full and beautifully capped:
Then, we take the supers back to the barn. Thanks to the boards we placed previously, only a very small handful of bees come back with us. They'll make their way back to the hive at some point. Then, the real extraction work begins.
Step one is uncapping the frames. Using a hot knife, we skim that top layer of wax off the frame. The wax drops into the collection bin below to be sorted later, and any honey clinging to that wax drips through the bin into a collection tank. Some frames are easier than others to uncap, and it's slow going to make sure the knife doesn't tear the cells open, but the idea is just to open up the cells so the honey can flow out! As you can imagine, this is a very sticky process.
Next, the frames get loaded into the extractor. Our extractor can load 20 frames at a time, and spins the frames so that the honey is pulled out of the cells and drips down the side of the tank. Here's the uncapped frames all loaded up and ready for spinning:
While the frames are spinning, we open the valve at the bottom of the tank to collect the honey. Our honey goes through two mesh strainers on its way into the bucket: this removes any chunks of wax that may have loosened from the frames, but leaves all the pollen molecules and everything else that makes natural honey delicious.
And that's it! The honey goes from the strainer to new, food-grade, 5-gallon buckets, and from the buckets straight into the jars and then to your kitchen. There's no excess filtering, overheating, or other processing, so Bee Rex honey is the closest thing to straight out of the hive as we can get.
Afterwards, the extracted frames (called "wet frames" because they still have traces of honey on them) are then put back into the hives. The bees LOVE these, and will pull every last drop of honey off the super frames as they build up the rest of the hive for winter. After 4 days of extraction, 2020 yielded us 20 buckets of honey (roughly 1,000 lbs!).